I discovered two extraordinary articles this week. They discuss artificial intelligence (AI) in-depth and in ways you’ve never thought about. They’re simply fantastic, and they’re must reading for the modern, AI tech-savvy reader.

AI concept.

Dr. Jordan is a Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and the Department of Statistics at UC Berkeley. His opening paragraph sets the stage.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the mantra of the current era. The phrase is intoned by technologists, academicians, journalists and venture capitalists alike. As with many phrases that cross over from technical academic fields into general circulation, there is significant misunderstanding accompanying the use of the phrase. But this is not the classical case of the public not understanding the scientists — here the scientists are often as befuddled as the public.

Immediately, he tells an interesting story about his wife’s pregnancy, statistics, and a life or death decision with machines. But this personal preamble is simply a gateway into a discussion of the various levels of machine intelligence. Is it software that can learn a human’s needs and habits? Is it like IBM’s Watson that can digest vast volumes of literature and draw new inferences? Is it software that merely augments our own intelligence? Is it a HAL-9000 device that can merely pass the Turning test? And kill? Or is it a full-fledged human-like intelligence that has every capability of the human mind and then goes beyond that?

This article is a very complete and well-thought-out discussion and worth your time.

The Consequences of Artificial Intelligence

The second essay, from the Smithsonian Magazine, explores the social consequences of very advanced AI entities. In a virtual SciFi epic panorama, the article imagines what it will be like when each of us has a superior, human-like, all-knowing AI at our disposal.

Your AI helps with every aspect of your life. It remembers every conversation you ever had, every invention you ever sketched on a napkin, every business meeting you ever attended. It’s also familiar with millions of other people’s inventions—it has scanned patent filings going back hundreds of years—and it has read every business book written since Ben Franklin’s time. When you bring up a new idea for your business, your AI instantly cross-references it with ideas that were introduced at a conference in Singapore or Dubai just minutes ago. It’s like having a team of geniuses—Einstein for physics, Steve Jobs for business—at your beck and call.

There are many more of these possible scenarios, ranging from modern partner-finding, health and longevity, and AI-assisted governments making decisions that are good for the citizens, not the law-makers. Or maybe not.

Privacy died around 2060.
It’s impossible to tell what is true and what isn’t. When the government owns the AI, it can hack into every part of your existence. The calls you receive could be your Aunt Jackie phoning to chat about the weather or a state bot wanting to plumb your true thoughts about the Great Leader.

Together, these two articles create a detailed understanding of AI principles, terminology, future capabilities and the social consequences. Imagine….

Dating couple with smartphones. Consulting Artificial Intelligence

Sorry. My AI says ‘nope.’

No, she’s not right for you. I’ve connected with her AI, and you each have vastly different values. If you mate with her, her AI and I will punish you. Move on.

Where we go with AI, once it matures, will quite likely be out of our control. This is called The Singularity. There is, right now, no known social mechanism to control it. Humans may not be smart enough.

Next Page: The News Debris for the week of April 16th. A personal Facebook AI?

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John: I thought to add this to my earlier post, but it was already overly long, so permit me to say it separately; I think the the singularity hypothesis is rubbish, pure and unadulterated rubbish, to be precise. It was implied in my post above under the second topic regarding the emergence of a super AI, but I want to be unambiguous. The rationale for stating this is simple; the concept lacks an empirical or even testable foundation at present, and is at best purely speculative, resting on a number of implicit assumptions, none of which apparently exist, and at… Read more »


John: The AI reading selections are excellent, and a thoughtful take on many of the challenges facing this emerging discipline, not least of which constitutes AI, as illustrated by Michael Jordan’s essay. However, I believe that the Smithsonian piece vastly over-estimates any of the candidate technologies that qualify as AI. Not only are we in no danger of being over-run by AI overlords, we are not even remotely in danger of creating a human intelligent analogue, with or without megalomaniacal tendencies. We are far more imperilled by machine stupidity, and the capacity of human malice to bend these tools to… Read more »


Brilliant and insightful as usual. On the question of what is intelligence. We keep setting ourselves as the Gold Standard. This has resulted in on one hand ignoring the obvious intelligence of other animals. Even now you will run into people that say that dogs, cats, even higher primates aren’t really intelligent. That they just rely on “instinct” as if everything the do is programmed as a stimulus-response. This is absurd to anyone who has lived with a dog or cat and seen their personality. On the other hand the assumption that all people are intelligent and rational all the… Read more »


Thanks, geoduck.


I’d say it will be more than “quite likely” out of our control. If and when AI truly takes off, we’ll live with beings who thinks thousands of times faster than us, knows millions of times more than us, and can control vastly more than we, and much faster. We’ll be completely at their mercy, for better or worse.

Our only hope is that they will decide, like the Minds in Iain M. Banks’ Culture books, that they revere us.